Why Customers are More Than Just Sales- A Lesson Learned

Jerry Sevier

Guest Post by:

Jerry D. Sevier, Founder
ExamShout Mobile Certification Study Solutions
A division of Gensev, Inc.

Customers are more than just a figure in your sales log. Many companies have learned that they are an incredible resource for information. They can tell you when you aren’t doing the right thing or validate you are, in fact, moving in the right direction. However, I have recently discovered they can do even more. The simple act of reaching out to your customer base to honestly CONNECT can have profound results.

Before I get too involved, I’d like to take a moment and thank Scott Cooksey for the opportunity to make this guest appearance on CookseyConnects. I have known Scott for over fifteen years as he and I worked together in what was my first professional job in the Information Technology (IT) industry. Today, I own a successful business that sells mobile applications for devices like Android and iPhone.  [No “thanks” necessary, Jerry!  You are certainly WELCOME and I offer you many congratulations on your continued success! – Scott]

Since moving away from that small Oklahoma town where we first met, we’ve each been busy learning our life-lessons and establishing our careers. I had, for many years, a very successful consulting career providing software development services to many Fortune 500 companies all over the country. To put it simply, companies paid me a lot of money for what was, in essence, my opinion on strategy, direction and design on things like e-commerce and enterprise computer systems.

About two years ago, my wife asked me a pretty innocent question: “If you can help these companies make millions of dollars, why can’t you do that for yourself?” Little did we know, this simple question would change our lives forever. Since then, we have formulated a small consulting company that specializes in Mobile/Smart Phone applications. I figured, with all of my experience, ability to program, and such a thorough understanding of the industry, how could I fail, right?

We did everything by the book. We created the business plan, I researched our target market, I studied my competition and formulated a design for our software. I added many features that our competitors had “overlooked”. Because of this, what should have been a three month development cycle was dramatically extended. We launch almost a year later than expected.

Upon the software release, sales were very disappointing. Just like I learned as a consultant, I went back into business mode, modified our software design, and released a much-improved update. Still, sales were flat. I was frustrated and we were looking at losing everything we had invested in a venture that was clearly heading towards failure.

Out of desperation, I decided to ask my customers directly for their input. Instead of drafting some fancy e-mail campaign, I printed off a customer list and spent an entire week doing nothing but sending a personalized email to each and every one of the people who had purchased our program. As one then another responded, I’d immediately write them back. Before I knew it, I had an open dialog with dozens of our customers. I made responding to them my number one priority. Many of them were shocked that I would respond within minutes even at 2:00 am.

All while I was working with the customers, I was formulating how we could revamp our marketing strategy. We could do this… we could do that. Here’s how we could change our software. My mind was busy putting together the strategy. Then, something remarkable happened.

Sales began to explode! We were seeing sales at a rate we had never imagined.

But wait! We hadn’t done anything yet! How were sales skyrocketing before we’d made any real changes?

I am ashamed to say, it took me a bit to realize what had happened. It turns out, when I reached out and connected with my customers, I had unknowingly provided them with a feature that none of my competition had… a two-way relationship. Their input mattered, I did my best to change what I could and explain what I couldn’t. In exchange, they began to tell their friends about us, and a process was born that spread like wild-fire.

Customers are not just those statistics that you read on the daily sales log. They are real, hard working people like you and me. If you can reach out, develop a real conversation, you can empower them. And, more often than not, that new power will be used to help you take your business to the next level.

To this day, I attempt to send a custom, personalized letter to each and every one of my customers. While this is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with due to our new found success, it is a process I will never stop.

The Challenge

As a final note to each of you reading this: If you work in a service oriented industry, I challenge you to reach out to some of your customers and/or clients today and honestly ask them for their input, suggestions, and comments. I promise, the harder you work to respond to them, the more success you will find.

Thank you and happy connecting!

Visit Jerry’s Company on the Web at: www.examshout.com
Follow @examshout on Twitter

Your People are Disconnected and Your Customer Service Stinks

Recently, I had the opportunity to lead a staff development training day at a major university’s school of dentistry.  There were approximately 60 people in attendance, most of whom worked in some type of support role either at the school, within a private dental practice, or both.

Realizing this training was being held on both the Friday before the U.S. Memorial Day Holiday and on a particularly amazing day (weather wise), I knew I needed to reel them in quick.  I decided to open with an exercise to get them talking to one another and moving around the room (always a great idea first thing in the morning).  I posted with a few questions for them to consider before moving about the room, asking each participant to write down the first answers to each that came to their mind.  The reply immediately voiced from nearly half the people in the room, however, spoke volumes to me when I heard a collective, “But, nobody told us to bring a pen!”

Customer Service Feedback Form
How Does YOUR Service Rank?

Pause for a few seconds and think– In that moment, had you been leading the seminar, what would you have done?

What happened next, however, was both a bit of a relief, and an troubling explanation.  Relief in that the local leader had indeed brought along enough ball point pens to pass around for the unprepared.  Explanation in how that single action of providing the pens made me question what other bad habits among this team were being enabled to continue every single day- dismissed as “oh, they’re just like that” and “it’s easier to just hold their hands”.

Here’s the real kicker.  This was about the 5th or 6th day of training this group had received during the entire academic year. “What?”, I thought.  “You didn’t bring a pen to a training class?”

More times than you might believe over the past couple of years, I have witnessed seminar participants sign in at registration,  collect their workbook (with certificate of completion already stashed on the last page), and ask for directions to the restroom….never to be seen again.  And, to be candid, I’m not sure it is entirely their fault.  They simply do not feel empowered to make a difference or influence change back at work and must be thinking, “Why bother?” Often, these are the same employees who have the best opportunities to make it right with your most important customers, clients, and vendors….and simply don’t even try.

Here are a few quick ideas for you, the mighty leader of your team (no, it isn’t a job title, it’s an attitude), to make sure the people around you are engaged, plugged in, and turned on at work:

  1. Hold those around you accountable for their actions. Don’t just enable them by running to get ball point pens they clearly should have brought to the training session. If there are no consequences for unacceptable or unprofessional behavior, why should you expect them to change for the better?
  2. Assign a book report. When you send someone from your team to a training seminar or conference, challenge them to come up with a brief presentation on 3-5 key points they learned and feel others would benefit from hearing about.  If you were the one sent to the class, offer to share some ideas to your group in a staff meeting. Taking initiative says, “I’m working for the job I want….not the one I have.”
  3. Listen. If your team is disengaged and discouraged, you should know it.  If not by what they say, listen to how they say it. More importantly, listen to what they don’t say.  If everyone around you has stopped trying to solve problems and only complain about them, it is up to you to draw them into helping solve the issues.  If you ignore the obvious problems, you are in fact condoning them to continue.

Accountability is the name of the game. Build a solid team, and you’ll see the results with success at every level!


Business Relationships Begin With First Class Service

As I found Seat 18A aboard a Continental Express flight from Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport to the Midland/Odessa airport, I settled into my routine.  Sony noise-cancelling headphones? Check.  Kindle stowed in seat pocket for takeoff? Check. Carry-on bag neatly stowed in overhead bin? Check.

Admittedly, I don’t pay much attention to the goings-on of other boarding travelers on most days.  That day, however, I noticed something different.  The flight attendant was amazingly polite.  Her banter pleasant and sincere.  Each passenger was greeted with a “thank you for flying with us today” and gentle suggestions for comfort as the attendant performed her pre-flight check of the cabin.  Normally, I wouldn’t notice.  Today, however, there was something VERY familiar about the attendant.  Probably just coincidence.  Then, something caught my eye…and I grinned.

I settled back in my seat, and before I knew it, the aircraft had leveled out at our cruising altitude, and the attendant began our in-flight beverage service.  Normally, I don’t get excited about an over-iced, 5 ounce plastic cup of soda and a Hobbit sized handful of peanuts.  Today, I couldn’t wait.

The One & Only Judy McClure
Cooksey with Judy McClure January 2011

The flight attendant approached my row, made eye contact, and, as I expected, asked, “Mr. Cooksey, what could I get to you drink this afternoon?”

“Judy”, I smiled as I answered her, “you won’t remember me, but a few…”

She put her hand up to stop me mid-sentence to say, “You’re the gentleman who wrote the blog!”

“So you got it?”, I asked, unsure if my message by way of the @Continental account on Twitter had been received.

“My supervisor brought a copy of it to me.  Before that, I didn’t even know what a blog was.”

We laughed, chatted a few minutes, and she continued service to the remaining passengers.

Upon our arrival at the Midland/Odessa, TX airport, I slowly gathered my belongings so I could exit last.  I wanted to make sure to thank her again for continuing to make a difference in each passenger’s experience, whether THEY noticed it or not.

After thanking Judy for the opportunity to share her story from that flight nearly three years earlier to my audiences, she said to me, “You speak and train on customer service, right?”

“Among other topics. Why do you ask?”

Then she dropped the bombshell, “What could I be doing differently to be even better?”

Stumped, I replied, “Judy…just keep doing it.  YOU are the example I’ve been using for the past three years of someone who takes initiative, is sincere, and puts others before herself for the sake of great service.” Then I asked her, “If I may, where did YOU learn about the importance of great service.”

“Probably from my parents”, she humbly replied. “They owned a dime store while I was growing up.  My father always said the key to his success was treating people with enthusiasm and respect.”

Judy, I’m not sure what the future holds for you, but I know you will continue to share your smile, sincere voice, and quiet confidence about you wherever the road (or the skies) may take you.

In a world with thousands of domestic flights each day, thousands of flight crews, and countless travel schedules, it isn’t often that I see the same flight attendant more than once.  When I do, rarely have they left the impression Judy has on me. Every time I board a Continental Express flight, I look for Judy.  If you see her, please be sure to tell her I said hello!

And, yes….she DID give me the entire can of Diet Coke during beverage service.  I didn’t even have to ask!

Why Should THEY Buy When It’s All About YOU?

Consistently, when people ask me “how can I get people to see me as a leader?”, I ask them a simple question. “Why should they?”  If the answer suggests it has something to do with their own benefit, suggest they consider their teammates’ points of view.

If you are like most leaders, undoubtedly you are in a continuous mode of learning.  And, if you are on the path to achieving the success you deserve, I certainly hope you are also unafraid of failure.  Yes, that’s what I said: UNAFRAID OF FAILURE!

In pursuit of his efforts to convert electricity into light, Thomas Edison has been quoted as saying “I never failed. I only found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” Dare I suggest it was attitude, not necessarily know-how that created the lightbulb.

Take a look at how you are approaching growth of your own business, climbing the ladder of success, or giving to people around you.  If it’s all for your own benefit (e.g. a sale, self-promotion, doing it “your way”, or the like), you are most likely walking past a dollar to pick up a dime.

This week’s challenge is to think about how you can help eliminate “pain” or take away other people’s problems with solutions you are able to provide.  When you stop selling a product, you begin providing solutions.  People PAY for solutions because they are too lazy or lack the expertise to solve the issue themselves.

Repeat after me, “The solutions I can provide my clients/customers are more valuable than the products I sell.”

Share how you are beginning to see things differently below.

Quiet Confidence and the USMC

Of all of the urban myths that float about on the Internet, this one seemed worthy of re-posting. There’s no way to verify it’s authenticity.

In addition to communicating with the local Air Traffic Control facility, all aircraft in the Persian Gulf AOR are required to give the Iranian Air Defense Radar (military) a ten minute ‘heads up’ if they will be transiting Iranian airspace.

This is a common procedure for commercial aircraft and involves giving them your call sign, transponder code, type of aircraft, and points of origin and destination.

I just flew with a guy who overheard this conversation on the VHF Guard (emergency) frequency 121.5 MHz while flying from Europe to Dubai.

The conversation went like this…

Iranian Air Defense Radar: ‘Unknown aircraft you are in Iranian airspace. Identify yourself.’

Aircraft: ‘This is a United States aircraft. I am in Iraqi airspace.’
Air Defense Radar: ‘You are in Iranian airspace. If you do not depart our airspace we will launch interceptor aircraft!’

Aircraft: ‘This is a United States Marine Corps FA-18 fighter. Send ’em up, I’ll wait!’

Air Defense Radar: (no response … total silence)

Making assumptions about who is really calling the shots, even in the midst of a highly regulated environment, can be dangerous. The real lesson, though, is the confident response of the USMC pilot. He was compliant of the rules. He was respectful. He only told the truth. In the end, it was the confidence of his own abilities and strengths which were left to speak for themselves.

Even when you know you are right, sometimes the best response is one of quiet confidence.

Be confident. Be bold. Define YOUR success!

The Failure of Process over Service

Let me begin by saying, when it comes to Internet access: I’m CHEAP. To be honest, I haven’t directly paid for it in at least three years (except for a few times when I was stranded at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago- read the post here). I’m using the term “directly” to mean I haven’t had a paid-for connection…I’m a fan of coffee shops, restaurants, unknowing neighbors who don’t lock their wireless routers, and friends (you know who you are, and I THANK YOU!)

This afternoon, I visited one of my regular haunts today to check up on some email, browse the web, and get a little writing done. Easily, I frequent one of this chain’s stores a minimum of 4 times a week-each time purchasing AT A MINIMUM a cup of over-priced, mediocre coffee (for those of you wondering, it’s Panera Bread). If you factor in the expensive sandwiches, coffee, softdrinks, and occasional freshly baked cookie…you’d see that the “free wi-fi” seemingly does it’s job to attract a flurry of salespeople, free agent contractors, and students inside to drive up sales. I digress…

So today, I noticed something new on the menu listed under “Featured Bagels” called the Cranberry Walnut Bagel. Just underneath it, read the words “with reduced fat Honey Walnut Cream Cheese Spread” and a single price quoted at $1.25. Hooray for the “bagel special”! The cookies here are nearly that much and not nearly as filling. $2.86 later, the fellow who had taken my order handed me the soft drink cup and tray with the bagel. No spread. He was agast. “Actually, the spread is extra.” I replied to the contrary, indicating that was not represented as such by the sign posted. Standing by his word, the employee went in search of backup. He found a manager (maybe a shift leader), to whom he colorfully exclaimed “Hey, are we DOING that?!”, as he pointed at the sign clearly indicating that they were-at least for the customer who just ordered based on what it stated. Now backed up by mangagement, he continued to deny me the spread. Annoyed, as I began my turn to the self-service soda fountain, I paused, looked the manager in the eye and said, “You really need to fix your sign.”

After filling my drink, I returned to the counter and decided to press my luck and hope for “No Whammies“. I again pulled out my wallet, and began to order up some spread (come on…the bagel would be really dry without it). Another patron who’d overheard my previous exchange said, “You know, if they put it on the sign, they have to honor it. If not, it’s false advertising.” I paused and said, “You’re right”, turning back to the employee, “I really think you should give me the spread”. To his credit, he did. But not before the manager disgustedly pulled the sign down from the menu posted on the wall above the register.

Okay. This was all over about less than $1.00 worth of “missed up-sell” to an obviously regular customer at this location. The kid behind the register was so concerned about doing something wrong, he was afraid to make a simple exception…really to only one person. It’s not like they were lined up with a breakfast rush where potentially 20 people would exploit this mistakenly offered deal. It was nearly 4:00 in the afternoon and there weren’t 20 people in the entire restaurant!

I was polite, but firm. In fact, I almost backed down to not create a scene. Happy that I apparently had scored the “deal of the day” without really trying, I sat down at a table and was approached by another extremely polite employee (who is also a very chatty senior citizen of this great country who sometimes forgets there is a line of people waiting to order, but hey…is that so bad?) who stopped by to say “I agree with you about the spread. I can’t believe they would give so much hassle to a customer who’s as regular in here as you are.” I thanked her for the support, and reminded her they’d made it right.

The next time you see an error of negligible value that seems to be in the favor of one of YOUR customer, new or loyal… the correct answer is to 1) smile, 2) admit it’s in their favor, 3) let ’em “get away with it”, and 4) enjoy the goodwill of a satisfied customer. Otherwise, he’s going to sit in a booth in YOUR RESTAURANT, using YOUR BANDWIDTH, to publish to the world how silly your employees are because you haven’t allowed them any OWNERSHIP of their job or EMPOWERED THEM TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO YOUR CUSTOMERS.

Now, what did I do with that receipt? It’s time to fill out the customer survey. I wonder if they know about the blog, if it will improve my chances of winning the $2000 give away offered to survey respondents?

p.s. The bagel with the “recommended” spread was VERY yummy.

Thank You, Judy McClure!

Lately, I’ve done my share of travel, speaking in high schools for Monster.com’s Making It Count Programs. In a typical month, I may find myself boarding as many as 12-15 planes – each one with it’s own flight crew – Each flight crew, it’s own personality.

Last week, I boarded a flight from Tulsa, OK (TUL) to Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH). It was the same old routine. My wheelie bag was gate-checked, backpack stowed below the seat in front of me, flight attendant rattled off the safety instructions as I fiddled with my iPod, and we were off.

Shortly after the pilot leveled out for the trip, the attendant began drink service (oh…and peanuts!) for those of us on this short flight. As the cart parked just beyond Seat 11A, I heard a voice ask, “What would you like to drink today, Mr. Cooksey?”

“Um…wow! Did you say ‘Mr. Cooksey’? Well, I’ll have a Diet Coke, please.”

In all of my traveling, I have NEVER had a flight attendant call me by my name for any reason. Not even traveling in First Class!

A little later in the flight, I stopped the attendant as she headed up the aisle to thank her for actually calling me by name. She replied, “Well, this job isn’t really rocket science so I decided a few years ago to try calling passengers by name. And you know, I’ve learned a lot of interesting names and met some very nice people!”

Well, Judy McClure of Continental Airlines, you made my otherwise routine flight something memorable. In fact, your attention to detail and going the extra mile just to help make your day a little more interesting made such an impression on me I almost forgot about the poorly designed touch-screen kiosk at the check-in counter….almost.

Customer Service is Out Of Style In Chicago

This week’s travel grind is continues to prove challenging. I learned of a mis-scheduled speech 90 minutes before heading to the airport yesterday (read: I spent the night in Houston, TX last night because it was cheaper than re-booking my flight to Cincinnati), ran into some issues with the credit card I use for travel (that’s another blog ENTIRELY), and at this writing have been stranded at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport since early this afternoon. At last update, I was scheduled on the 6:15PM to Cincinnati which will allegedly depart around 8:30pm.

While plagued with typical winter travel via Chicago issues (cancellations, delays, a surplus of downtime), I was reminded why I find it so important to speak on topics of finance…heck, not even finance- money.

Shortly after landing here today, I thought I’d enjoy a tasty yogurt parfait for lunch. Spotting one at the Starbucks booth near the gate of my later cancelled flight, I walked up to the three…THREE…people working behind the counter, when I was greeted with “Our thing is down. If you’d like, you can come back a little later.” To which I responded, “I suppose I don’t really have a choice, do I?” Then received, “No. You really don’t.”

Last time I checked, a barrista doesn’t need to use a computer to do anything related to actually making me a cup of coffee or selling me food…except for handling the money. Ahhhhh, therein lies the issue. Money.

I stepped away, walking back down the corridor about 2 gates to a booth for Uno’s Chicago Pizza where I was met by a polite man puzzled that his register, too, was down. Only his response was quite different. When I inquired about the parfaits he had in his chiller (identical to the one I’d spotted early), he said, “Well, my register is down, but if you have cash, we can do this!” “Really?”, I replied, “I have cash!” So he grabbed a pen and a scrap of paper, scribbled down some quick numbers (**carry the one….**) and for $5.60, proudly sold me a parfait….AND A BANANA! Just my making my transaction possible, I picked up the “impulse purchase”.

As I picked up my goods, I thanked him and said he should consider holding a class for the people over at Starbucks…for not having a register simply BLEW THEIR MINDS!

Come on, people! It’s a $6.00 cup of coffee. It’s probably okay if you made the math easy and sold a few cheapies when your register goes down..heck, how about a free one?

To every teacher who took the time to make sure I knew how to use basic math, THANK YOU!

Good grief!

New Boarding Rules at Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is known for its whimsical, no-frills approach. As far as I know, it’s the only airline that mails out birthday cards (I get one every year), sends free drink (read: beer, wine, liquor) coupons to frequent flyers, and operates what may be the industry’s simplest free-ticket program (8 round-trips and you’re done….They don’t care about air miles.) For the most part, they get it right….at least for the casual or flexible flyer. I actually listened once to the safety monologue at the beginning of the flight because the attendant started it with “There may be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only 6 ways to get off of this aircraft, so you might want to listen up!” For my uptight, retentive friends, it’s a little too loosey-goosey, but hey, the fares are relatively cheap, and the flights are pretty well on time.

Perhaps the most defining element of the airline, however, is what so many of us travelers have dubbed “the cattle call”, or as the industry calls it: open seating. At first, this was pretty cool. Show up early, earn the right to board ahead of others and pick your seat. Show up late…you’re likely stuck in the middle seat somewhere near the back. (Maybe that’s what the drink tickets are for.)

Just when you thought it couldn’t get any goofier, Southwest Airlines has done it again. They have changed their trademark boarding system. Arriving at the gate for a recent flight, I found a number of 8-foot tall, chrome signposts adorned with placards covered with a somewhat confusing array of numbers and arrows. Granted, once I sat down, ate a yogurt parfait for breakfast, and considered their purpose for about 20 minutes, I seemingly figured it out. The senior citizens who showed up closer to boarding time, though, were utterly confused.

It seems now, instead of receiving a boarding group status of A (flyers 1-30), B (31-60), or C (61-90) + everyone else; now each boarding pass has not only a letter, but a sequential number as well. Today, I was “A-29”. I had checked in online last night from home and printed my pass this morning at the office….HOURS before I could have done the same at the airport. This new system was best described by this retired fellow who seemed both annoyed and entertained at the signs. “I guess three lines (A, B, C) of a bunch of people was too difficult, so now they have about 20 lines of 5 people.”

(Note: The following day, on my return flight, I arrived at the gate to find much better designed “line markers”–see photo– bolted to the floor and much less confusing….Let’s call it a “quick learning curve”.)

Do you think the new boarding procedure is a success, or a failure? Sound off with your comments!

Literal Instruction

As many of us have experienced, a ‘going away’ party was held recently at an office near Little Rock, Arkansas.

One of the supervisors called a Wal-Mart and ordered the cake.

He told them to write:

‘Best Wishes Suzanne’ and underneath that write ‘We will miss you’.

As the picture shows, it didn’t quite turn out right.

I sure hope this was a freebie!